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Tag: Occupy Wall Street

April 5, 2013, by
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Photo: David Shankbone (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Kallee Lins

What do Ingrid Bergman, Italian statues and Occupy Wall Street zombie walks have in common? They all problematize the relationship between ‘performance’ and the ‘live’ according to performance theorist Rebecca Schneider, Chair of the Department of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies at Brown University.

Academic conversations about the performing arts can seem dry at best, and completely detached from any practical relevance at the worst of times (particularly in a Canadian context where critical recognition of the arts isn’t easy to come by). Enter the Performance Studies (Canada) Project, a SSHRC-funded research project headed by York University Professor Laura Levin to chart the development of performance studies in Canada. As part of the project’s 2013 speaker series, Schneider was at Massey College last week delivering a talk entitled “Acting in Ruins: the Interval and the Loop.”

Performance theorists have long been interested in questions of what constitutes a ‘live’ performance. As Schneider pointed out, “live performance” is a little like saying “feline cat”—it’s redundant. Whereas, “recorded performance” is an oxymoron. Performance has always been predicated on the now. But in an era of re-enactments and re-performances, “live art” has become increasingly interested in rendering live what was once dead and in the past. It is the interim space between performance and reenactment (the interval as she calls it), and the loop between them that Schneider’s most interested in.

Ingrid Bergman considers Italian statues. Which one is more ‘live’: Bergman or the statues?

“Acting in Ruins” could justifiably be divided into two parts; the first, a call to question our strict division between what is live/not live and animate/non-animate in performance; and the second, an analysis of these binaries in relation to the neoliberal economy. To make the first point she showed a clip of Ingrid Bergman in Journey to Italy in which Bergman is wandering through a statue-filled museum in Naples, making wonderfully dramatic gasps every time she gazed into their painted eyes. The question, of course, was “who was live?” We’d never hesitate to say, “Bergman gave a great performance,” but was her recorded image any more live than that of the statues? Furthermore, as Schneider notes, theatre has always had a close relationship to statuary—from the Greek and Roman statues of players surrounding classical stages to Tino Sehgal’s recent performance at the Guggenheim embodying images from visual art and turning himself into “living sculpture.”

The academic discourse on ‘liveness’ has gone through various iterations—from thinking of performance as resistant to material documentation (completely ephemeral), to thinking of documentation as reiterative (as re-performing the performance in another context or medium). Schneider now wants us to think about performance as remaining, as an event that inevitably leaves traces affecting each subsequent performance as well as the previous document on which it was based. In her most recent book, “Performing Remains: art and war in times of theatrical reenactment,” she explains this using the example of Hamlet’s play-within-a-play. Hamlet worries about speaking the words “set down” in a manner of which he can approve. He realizes, in his concern for speaking the words “trippingly on the tongue” (Hamlet, 3.2) that the transition from text to performance creates instability. Schneider makes clear that it’s not just performance that is shifty and mobile, but that any text or document is subject to alteration in the “volatile” temporal space between an ‘original’ and its re-performance.

This scene from Portlandia illustrates a contemporary example of a digital loop.

Schneider is concerned with this interim space between performances for political reasons. She asks “how we might approach intervals between performances as important sites of analysis, or, conversely, how we might think about the “loop” in many (re)current performance-based works?” She answers this by looking at the links between ‘performance’ and its increasingly prevalent connotations in a neo-liberal economy in which “high-performance” refers to high-productivity and efficiency.

If performance is taken to mean live and happening now in the current moment, it enforces a progress-driven linearity, but if we follow Schneider in troubling the relationship between past and present performances, and if we take her suggestion that a performance always leaves remains that can alter both preceding and proceeding performances, we end up with the complicated temporality that theatre is based on. Thanks to theatre’s reliance on a fictional reality, Schneider suggests we can refer to the temporality of theatre as a “live non-now”. In this way, theatre cannot be productive (in the economic sense of the word), and if something is “not productively performative than in it must be theatrical”. The point here is that theatre can be used to challenge the progress/performance driven neo-liberal economy.

Schneider brings all of this—theatre’s ability to complicate the relationship between past and present, and what is live/not live—together in the image the zombie. In a recent article in TDR entitled, “It Seems As If…I Am Dead: Zombie Capitalism and Theatrical Labor” Schneider looks at the Occupy Wall Street zombie walks, and examines how they function on multiple levels of metaphor. She says that if we agree the zombies may represent consumers then:

“more than 99% of Americans have succumbed to a zombie apocalypse. Suffering without infrastructure to support their deaths, they disastrously walk, which is to say they respect no distinction between public and private. But for OWS, the zombies are reflection machines, flexible theatres of the crowd, aimed to catch the visages of those who worship corporate wealth. The multitude of money-munching zombies marching on Wall Street, then, represent the few global hoarders themselves.”

The OWS protesters embrace the theatricality of a zombie walk with its props, costumes, makeup and all to highlight their resistance to the neo-liberal economy. By showing themselves as dead, they resist the call to act as live, productive labourers. The major question implied throughout Schneider’s talk is how theatre, more generally, can act in this same way. How can we embrace the instability between one performance and the next, the living and the dead, and use this loop to challenge ideas of necessary progress and productivity?

Kallee is a graduate student in theatre and performance studies at York University. She’s most interested in the intersection between contemporary choreography and neo-liberal politics, and has a cat named Lucy.

Co-ED Note: This post is the first in a series by Kallee Lins that seeks to bridge the intellectual divide between academic and online discourse on theatre by presenting her interpretation of research of note. Enthused to have her on board with a new approach to ideas and discussion in this space. mw